Tag Archives: traffic

Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Westside Road has 29 approved wineries, making it one of the most concentrated winemaking zones in Sonoma County, alongside Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. Some neighbors have grown increasingly frustrated with the spread of wineries and events in those areas, and county supervisors are expected to return to that discussion sometime this fall.

A proposed new winery in one of Sonoma County’s most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions was rejected Thursday by county planning officials over concerns about traffic safety and the high concentration of existing wineries.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments voted unanimously to deny a permit for a Westside Road winery southwest of Healdsburg envisioned by Leslie Rudd, the owner of the Oakville Grocery stores. Rudd’s team plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors, making for another high-profile case in the countywide debate about the spread of wineries and the special events they often host.

Read more at: Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Ex-Cloverleaf Ranch site proposal sparks debate over development in rural buffer zones 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to revive and revamp shuttered lodging and event grounds off Old Redwood Highway are being met with resistance from Sonoma County environmentalists who say the project will encroach on rural lands voters eight months ago overwhelmingly agreed to protect from large-scale development.

The project would transform more than 20 acres just north of Santa Rosa into a new business called Solstice Sonoma, envisioned by San Francisco architect Kevin Skiles and his partners as a modern yet rural getaway for weddings and retreats, and for others seeking an escape barely removed from city services and Highway 101.

Originally developed as part of the Cloverleaf Ranch camp and horseback riding school next door, the site is located within one of the buffer zones between cities that received an additional 20 years of protection through the passage of Measure K last year.

Known technically as community separators, the buffer zones remain subject to longstanding county rules requiring voter approval of large new projects such as major housing tracts, shopping malls or other commercial developments.

Proponents contend the Solstice plans are in keeping with county land-use rules, including Measure K. Construction would be hidden behind a hill covered in grapevines, rendering the new development invisible to passing motorists, and the site was used for decades as a camp and event facility.

But critics say the proposed construction goes far beyond what land-use rules allow in rural buffer zones and what voters agreed to in November. They see the project as a key test of the strength of Measure K, which passed with more than 81 percent of the vote.

“This project definitely pushes the envelope,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, which spearheaded the ballot measure. “This is one of the last visible green buffers between Santa Rosa and Windsor.”

Parts of the project were evaluated Wednesday by Sonoma County’s Design Review Committee, which still needs to hold at least one more meeting to consider the proposed design in more detail. That committee does not have any land-use authority — ultimately, the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will need to approve or deny the project, a step at least a few months away. The zoning board’s decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Read more at: Ex-Cloverleaf Ranch site proposal sparks debate over rural buffer zones | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of concerned Westside Road residents want Sonoma County planners to halt a new winery proposed for the premier grape-growing corridor southwest of Healdsburg.

Their concerns center largely around traffic safety issues, but they illustrate yet another episode of neighborhood conflict over the spread of the region’s signature industry as county officials prepare to consider policy changes later this year.

The county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will hold a public hearing Thursday to consider issuing a use permit for a new winery on an approximately 26-acre site at 4603 Westside Road, an area that already contains one of the county’s highest concentration of wineries. As envisioned by its proponents, the new winery would produce 10,000 cases annually and would host 37 special gatherings, including a dozen promotional event days with as many as 150 people. Its events would include no weddings.

County staff members are recommending the zoning board approve the use permit, but the project has received strong resistance from neighbors who primarily cite two sharp turns in the road near the driveway that would lead into the winery. Residents say the turns are too tight and that the project’s proximity to them means it can’t provide sufficiently safe sight lines for motorists. They want the zoning board to reject the project.

Resident Judith Olney, who lives about one and a half miles up Westside Road from the winery site, said the project’s approval would be akin to “playing Russian roulette with public safety.”

Read more at: Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Op-Ed: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal

Maggie Bradley, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I have three serious concerns regarding the Chanate Road property development. The first one is about the manner in which the Board of Supervisors handled the sale and future development of the taxpayer-owned land surrounding the property. The second is the manner and way the public’s concerns were handled by Supervisor Shirlee Zane. And the final concern is about the lack of sustainability in the building and development of this new community.

The first issue has to do with accessibility and information. Who has it and how do they get it? What I know, based on the reporting done by The Press Democrat and from others, is that there were two proposals vying for the development contract. Two supervisors had only read Bill Gallaher’s proposal prior to the vote.

The property to be developed is in Zane’s district. Gallaher is a generous donor to select individuals running for public office. Zane is a recipient of Gallaher’s generosity. Komron Shahhosseini, an employee of Gallaher’s, is a member of the Sonoma County Planning Commission who was appointed by Zane. Although this project will be decided by the Santa Rosa City Council, Planning Commission members can have major influence on development projects throughout the county. Gallaher was awarded the bid and plans to build 800 new homes. Shahhosseini is now a partner of Gallaher’s and is the development’s project manager.

The other proposal, from Curt Johansen, included approximately 500 homes and was designed as a completely sustainable development.

The second concern has to do with Zane’s response to the distress expressed by the public over the traffic and scope of this development. Do the math. The impact of more than 800 new homes (most likely with two cars) making between 1,600 (one car, two trips, to and from work) and 3,200 (two cars, two trips) trips on two-lane roads must not be tossed off as unimportant. Include the traffic from the new retail area and apartment complex. Then consider the minimal public transit available in that district. It is a recipe for a traffic nightmare and certain gridlock.

Zane’s response to that legitimate concern (I’m paraphrasing) was to say that she had recently driven the road several times and the traffic wasn’t that bad.The public’s anxious concerns regarding potential development (more homes) on Paulin Creek Preserve were earlier diminished as likely irrelevant. What was disappointing was Zane’s passing the buck and blaming the mix up on “staff,” dramatically declaring that she was “blindsided” by the news (“Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow,” May 4). However, when the news broke a few months ago, it was treated as no big deal.

Zane seemed confident that something would be unearthed during the environmental review that would somehow render the issue of building on the preserve moot. What and why? If the preserve can’t be built on for environmental reasons, how can the land right next to it be developed?

Finally, the votes in favor of Sonoma Clean Power and the SMART train are strong indicators to our elected leaders that we as a community want to move more toward sustainability. I could find no mention of sustainable building in Gallaher’s proposal.The other proposal by Johansen had sustainability baked into the development on all levels.

As a medium-sized city, Santa Rosa has an opportunity to become the national model for sustainable development. Let’s grab it.

Maggie Bradley is a 40-year resident of Sonoma County whose son was born at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road and has been closely following plans for development of the site. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Source: Close to Home: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Op-Ed: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards

Janis Watkins, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s stunning rural beauty, pristine coast, charming small towns and scenic wine valleys are unique characteristics that draw visitors by the thousands. The boom in tourism has many benefits, including more jobs, increased tax revenues for the county and cities and a lively social vibrancy. But that success has also brought impacts.

Affordable housing in Wine Country has been hit hard by the tourism boom. Although tourists didn’t cause the housing crisis, tourism has exacerbated it. Residents are seeing the loss of housing stock to owners of second homes, Airbnb rentals and outside investors drawn by our local charm, who gentrify or “scrape and replace” neighborhood homes.In Healdsburg, an affluent visitor destination, 21 mostly Hispanic families suffered mass eviction by an outside investor. Some neighborhoods are hollowed out, degenerating into a set of part-time strangers. Low-paying tourism jobs are increasing, worsening the affordable housing deficit.

The increased number of tasting rooms, with evermore intense events, raises the specter of “Napafication.” Rural residents experience traffic congestion, loss of rural character, noise and out-of-scale alcohol tourism-related development. Two-lane Highway 12 is already over capacity with traffic, especially in the northern Sonoma Valley where special events attract more than 170,000 people annually. Approved and modified permits for five facilities alone will add another 25,000 vehicle trips. Similar over-concentration occurs on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley.

In Healdsburg, 37 tasting rooms are concentrated downtown, and they will pay top dollar, driving up rents to where other types of businesses have a hard time competing. For about half the year, tourism swells the population, which puts stress on public services at local taxpayer expense. Sonoma, the other plaza town, has a similar pattern. These tourist-focused towns have fewer services and less space for locals, less diverse economies and are vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. As once thriving communities become more commercialized, and their assets degrade, they lose their unique qualities, and tourists move on to more charming locations.

Solutions are at hand. Increasingly, Sonoma County is looking for ways to preserve the robust benefits of agricultural tourism, while balancing tourism with local residents’ needs and promoting a diverse economy.

The Board of Supervisors directed development of zoning code amendments, siting criteria and standards for winery events to address the impacts of wine-related tourism. Supervisors have signaled that new development in areas of concentration will face greater scrutiny and guidelines to limit detrimental concentrations and impacts to rural character from business activity in the Sonoma Valley, on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley. Developers have their sights on coastal areas. Luckily, county planners recently put a hold on a wine-tasting, brew pub and art venue proposal in the historic village of Freestone.

“Sustainable tourism” is also being discussed in Healdsburg and Sonoma. City and local leaders are considering how to create sustainable tourism, and the mayor of Sonoma is seeking coordination with Healdsburg on this effort. Sonoma County Conservation Action, a leader in grass-roots environmental issues, supports this collaborative approach. The process should involve broad outreach to residents, environmentalists and the lodging, wine and business sectors, and it should create specific enforceable measures that protect the carrying capacity of communities and balance the needs of tourism and residents.

Janis Watkins, a resident of Healdsburg, is a member of the board of directors of Conservation Action. 

Source: Close to Home: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Traffic, crime and groundwater use were among the main concerns raised by residential neighbors of the Graton Resort and Casino during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to double the size of the casino’s new 200-room hotel, which opened last November outside Rohnert Park.

The expansion, proposed by the casino’s owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, would add 211,328 square feet of building space to the existing 300,000-square-foot hotel, according to the draft tribal environmental impact report, released in March.

The casino, opened in November 2013, occupies more than 300,000 square feet.The town hall, hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, drew about 50 people to the Stony Point Christian Fellowship, located a little more than 2 miles north of the casino.

Officials from several county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Transportation and Public Works department, attended the meeting to review the 853-page draft environmental impact report and respond to questions from the public.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation, Water

Roblar Road quarry back before Sonoma County officials for environmental review

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of Sonoma County’s most controversial mining projects is showing public signs of progress again, nearly three years after it survived a hard-fought legal challenge and well over a decade after it was first proposed.

Next up for the planned quarry project off Roblar Road west of Cotati is an additional round of environmental review, which was triggered after the owner requested some changes to the conditions tied to county officials’ approval of the development more than six years ago.

Quarry developer John Barella wants permission to adjust the design of a road intersection his project is required to improve, reduce the width of a road he must expand and relocate a portion of a creek on which the project will encroach. The effects of the proposed changes will be studied by a consultant hired this week by county supervisors.

Barella, the former owner of North Bay Construction, first proposed the quarry in 2003, and a split Board of Supervisors signed off on it in December 2010, setting off a long legal fight waged by opponents concerned by the project’s environmental impacts.

But those opponents lost in July 2014, when a state appellate court upheld the county’s approval of the project and reversed a lower court ruling on all counts.

Read more at: Roblar Road quarry back before Sonoma County officials for environmental review | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use

Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.

What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.

A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.

“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.

Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.

Read more at: Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

River residents castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Public comment on the project’s environmental document, called the Initial Study and Negative Declaration, will be accepted through this Friday, Feb. 24, said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay. After the deadline, water agency staffers will look at the comments and determine whether the environmental review has been adequate or needs more work. “It could take a few months” before the environmental review is complete, said DuBay.

A full house of concerned river residents admonished the Sonoma County Water Agency last week over plans to truck the town of Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal.Her neighborhood is “prepared to do anything necessary to stop this absurd idea,” said Guerneville resident Susan Packer, who owns vacation rental property adjacent to the transfer site.

With Occidental’s sewage set to be trucked daily to a pumping station on Riverside Drive, where ongoing problems include odors and recent collection system overflows during Russian River flooding, “you certainly can’t handle any increase,” in sewage coming into the pump station, said Packer.Neighbors organized as the West Guernewood Action Group agree the transfer project is “incompatible and ill-considered” and are talking to an attorney, Noreen Evans, to represent them in opposition to the project, said Packer.

The united crowd of more than 100 people packed into the Monte Rio Community Center last week had little good to say about the project that would help the town of Occidental meet a state-imposed deadline to bring its sewage disposal methods up to code and avoid fines that could hit $10,000 per day. Occidental’s compliance deadline is Jan 1., 2018, said Sonoma County Water Agency Deputy Chief Engineer Cordel Stillman.

“We know there are some issues” with trucking the town’s sewage to Guernewood Park, where it would then be piped under the Russian River to the Russian River Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant on Neeley Road, said Stillman at last week’s public hearing hosted by the water agency. The trucking project was hammered out during talks in Occidental last year when Occidental residents rejected a water recycling plan there because of the prohibitive cost.

Trucking the sewage to Guerneville was seen as a stopgap measure that would give Occidental ”breathing room” until a more permanent solution is found, said Stillman.

The meeting in the Monte Rio Community Center was the first real public forum for river residents to weigh in on the transfer plan that was hatched last year as a way to solve Occidental’s inability to find an affordable sewage disposal plan so that the town’s wastewater does not pollute Dutch Bill Creek.

Read more at: River rats castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water